"Take a Bow"
Not many people get to conduct the world-famous Mormon Tabernacle and its companion ensemble, the Orchestra at Temple Square. At each of the seven concerts on the recent Classic Coast tour, Mack Wilberg handed off the baton to a community leader, giving each of them an opportunity to conduct the encore, “This Land Is Your Land.”
As Wilberg waved each guest conductor up to the podium, he smiled and said—a bit understated—“Have fun.” They did. One guest conductor even turned and invited the whole audience to join in the chorus, while another commented, “It was an honor just to be asked.” They described this once-in-a-lifetime event as one of life’s greatest moments—joyful, unforgettable, full of love, simply unreal. After the concert, the Choir frames the baton used by each conductor and presents it as a keepsake of the performance.
The Choir invites guest conductors as a way of connecting with the community. A few of the guest conductors had never waved a baton before; others were right at home in front of the nearly 400 musicians. Three conduct their own choirs, two were elected government officials, one was a talk show host, and one a newspaper publisher.
What did they say about the experience? Watch this video!
Dr. John Romeri, director of Music Ministries at Christ Cathedral, conducted at the Renée and Henry Segerstrom Concert Hall in Costa Mesa, California:
“To stand before that iconic Choir, that amazing icon of Americana, was just one of those moments, an out of body experience, just such a treat. Before there was any other choir for us, all there was was the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. When you talk about a choir, you talk about the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. You tell your own choirs, ‘What would the Mormon Tabernacle Choir do with this?’”
Dennis Prager, syndicated radio talk show host, conducted at The Music Center’s Walt Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles, California:
“For somebody who loves music, to stand in front of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir and conduct is like climbing Mount Everest. I don’t know what’s left. The Choir makes one trip here in 15 years and I get to conduct. I would have been happy to sit on the front row and just hear the Choir.”
Catharine Baker, California State Assemblywoman, conducted at the William Randolph Hearst Greek Theatre, on the campus of the University of California at Berkeley, California:
“What surprised me was the purity of the music, of the voices, how very much in unison they were even when they were singing harmony. What an incredible sound, in an open theater, outside. And how very original the arrangements were. I understand that Mack Wilberg writes so many of the arrangements—what a creative mind is leading the Choir.”
Dr. Timothy Seelig, artistic director of the San Francisco Gay Men’s Chorus, conducted at the Shoreline Amphitheatre in Mountain View, California:
“Getting to walk out on the stage, I turned and looked at them and their faces were just glowing. I am sure they are taught to tell their faces to glow, but I like to think it was a little extra special glow because of the importance of this evening. There is significance about opening our hearts to each other.”
Steve Falk, publisher of the Santa Rosa Press Democrat, which in 2017 was awarded a Pulitzer Prize for coverage of the Sonoma County fires, conducted at the Weill Hall + Lawn at the Green Music Center in Rohnert Park, where the Choir dedicated the concert to those who had lost their homes in the worst fire in California history:
“It was my first time hearing the Choir live. It was a real treat. And then to stand there with a baton, and using the baton works to make music! The music and message tonight were fabulous. It was the right time for that message; words that were spoken were very helpful, very healing. People who were here will leave better than when they came.”
Jon Washburn, artistic and executive director of the Vancouver Chamber Choir conducted at The Orpheum in Vancouver, British Columbia, on the eve of Canada Day, where the Choir sang the Canadian version of “This Land Is Your Land”:
“Conducting the Mormon Tabernacle Choir was a little strange for me; my choir numbers only 20. This choir has a lot of power. I have had a long relationship with many of its conductors: Craig Jessop, Jerry Ottley, and of course with Mack. So I have had a tangential connection for a very long time. This was first time to get my hands on them. That was very, very fun!”
Kim Wyman, 15th secretary of state for the state of Washington—and the only conductor to snap a selfie with the Choir—at Benaroya Hall, Seattle, Washington:
“One of the most powerful things about the Choir is that it brings people together through music. Music is such a unifying force for all of us, and then you pair that with people who clearly have deep faith, who are clearly committed to their church. They serve; they are clearly giving their time and their talents. We need to do more of it.”